Run Oregon Test Kitchen: Smart Cups


Runners love to have the latest technology. We want watches that track our splits, steps, and heart rates. We want headphones that let us to listen to music without blocking the sound of upcoming traffic. We want fabrics that make our running clothes safer, drier, or less smelly. So it naturally follows that we’d also want the most advanced technology with our beverages.

I tried Smart Cups, an energy drink made by a California-based technology company. Each package comes with five cups, and the dissolvable ingredients are printed on the base. By adding water, I was able to quickly and easily make these beverages, and then I tested how my body reacted on a run and swim.

What works:

  • Taste – The flavors are absolutely delicious. Smart Cups come in six flavors: Brilliant Berry Margarita Blast, Pucker Up Brain Boost, Tropical Recess, Nerdy Lemon-T, All Nighter Energy Punch, Tropical Recess, and my personal favorite Magna Cum Latte, which tastes like iced coffee. The flavors are all quite sweet, but the intensity can be adjusted for preference by adding more or less than the recommended amount of water. Perhaps the biggest benefit is that all flavors are noticeably lacking in that strong chemical aftertaste of canned energy drinks.
  • Ingredients – All vegan with zero calories or sugar, and full of amino acids and B vitamins.
  • Effectiveness – In terms of providing energy, Smart Cups deliver. Each drink has as much caffeine as a large cup of coffee, but it didn’t make me feel jittery. Some energy drinks can cause nausea, but I tested Smart Cups prior to actives such as running and swimming and the beverage did not upset my stomach or give me a headache. I felt alert and performed well.
  • Speed – Unlike many “instant” drinks that take time and effort to dissolve, the ingredients in Smart Cups quickly dissolve and don’t even require stirring. If you need a boost in a hurry and don’t have time to wait for coffee to brew, this is a great option.
  • Technology – Smart Cups is a tech company (not a beverage company), and it shows. The innovative 3D polycapsule printing means that ingredients are printed on the bottom of each disposable, biodegradable cup. Currently this technology is being used solely for energy drinks, but Smart Cups has plans of expanding into other types of beverages.


What Doesn’t:

  • Flexibility – The ingredients are printed to the bottom of the cup, which means the cup must be used in order to consume the drink (unlike options like Nuun that can be dissolved in any glass or water bottle). While the beverage certainly could be poured from the Smart Cup into a different container, just know that you will have a cup in your hands afterwards.
  • Cost – A pack of five cups costs $11.99 (~$2.40 per cup) or ten cups for $15.99 (~$1.60 per cup), and since Smart Cups aren’t currently sold in stores, there’s an additional $5.99 for shipping and handling (which brings a five pack to ~$3.60 per cup and a ten pack to ~$2.20). Considering that list price for a Red Bull is $1.99 per can and Nuun is $7.00 for a pack of 10 tablets, Smart Cups aren’t exactly the most inexpensive energy drink at the current moment, but buying in bulk does bring the cost per cup down.

What’s in the Middle:

  • Environmental Impact – Smart Cups position themselves as a “zero guilt” environmental choice, citing their vegan ingredients, biodegradable cups, and stackable design, which allows for a lighter shipping container than bottles or cans of a comparable energy drink, and therefore a smaller carbon footprint. These factors all are wonderful steps in the right direction, and it’s encouraging to see a company make sustainable choices. However, bag the cups are sold in is not recyclable or biodegradable, nor is the plastic shrink wrap surrounding the cups. The environmental impact may not be exactly zero, but it’s certainly a better choice than many alternatives.
  • Portability – Smart Cups are light and transportable, but having the ingredients printed directly on the cup is somewhat limiting. However, Smart Cups may be a good option for traveling or camping, as the cups can be easily packed into a suitcase or backpack.
  • Race Hydration (?) – Though it’s not really at this level yet, we could see Smart Cups as the future of on-course hydration during races – doing away with non-biodegradable plastic cups that litter the streets and allowing for way more diversity in flavor than what is able to be provided by RD’s typically.

All in all, Smart Cups are a tasty and effective energy drink from a company that’s making the environment a priority.


Company: Smart Cups

Price: $11.99 for five cups + $5.99 shipping.

More about Smart Cups:

Smart Cups, LLC, is a beverage manufacturing company with the unique ability to print any type of beverage on any surface.

Founded by Chris Kanik, Smart Cups is proud to be an American brand—that’s why Smart Cups is operated in Mission Viejo, California, and all products are manufactured on U.S. soil.

We want to reprint the world of beverage production in whatever image we choose—and we want that image to become the gold standard of beverage packaging and delivery. And we’re not gonna stop until we’ve changed the way you think about the way you drink.


Thank you to Smart Cups for providing us with a sample pack. Please read our transparency page for info on how we do our reviews.

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